|LA Times Thursday, May 11, 2000 |
By CAITLIN LIU, Times Staff Writer
A jury ruled in favor of a longtime Los Angeles science fiction and horror movie memorabilia collector, declaring Wednesday that the name "Dr. Acula" belongs to Forrest J Ackerman and not to his former business associate. In addition to trademark infringement, the Van Nuys jury also found Ackerman's former business associate, Ray Ferry, liable for breach of contract, libel and misrepresentation. Ackerman was awarded $382,500 in compensatory and $342,000 in punitive damages.
"Vindication! Vindication! Dr. Acula lives!" cried a jubilant Ackerman. He lives in a memorabilia-filled mansion in Los Feliz that has become an informal mecca for fans of science fiction and horror.
"I don't feel 83 anymore," Ackerman said. "I only feel 80 years old now." Jurors said they were impressed by such celebrities as movie director John Landis and author Ray Bradbury, who testified on Ackerman's behalf.
"I wasn't star-struck," said juror Teresa Cassidy, a 51-year-old telephone operator from Valley Village. "We had to go by the facts."
Ackerman is a former editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine who had a falling-out with Ferry, the current publisher. He said he coined the "Dr. Acula" name in 1939 and was forced to sue after Ferry began using it without his permission. He also alleged that Ferry, with whom he collaborated to stage science fiction conventions, refused to share profits as agreed and induced him to sign a contract when he was ill that would allow Ferry to buy millions of dollars worth of his assets for $1. On Wednesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen Petersen rescinded that contract. The jury threw out a countersuit that Ferry, 48, filed against Ackerman.
"It was pretty clear to us who Dr. Acula was," said juror Vince Telles, a 36-year-old accountant from Granada Hills. In fact, after jurors decided that Ackerman owned the trademark--the first issue they deliberated--they began referring to Ackerman as "Dr. Acula," they said. Last week, Bradbury testified that he had teased Ackerman, his former literary agent who published his first short story in the late 1930s, about his "Dr. Acula" nickname for more than 60 years. Ferry and his lawyer, Thomas Brackey II, said they would appeal.
"Mr. Ackerman's case was based entirely on sympathy," Ferry said. "On appeals it's going to get ugly."
Jurors said they felt Ackerman seemed like a nice, honest person.